Empowering Change in an Unempowered
Part 2: Matching Your Organizational
Maturity Level to Your Approach for
In the May issue of News
for a Change, three levels of organizational
maturity were described. In this issue we will review
how an organization’s approach to change
relates to its maturity level.
As you leave work today, you see a man who has
collapsed on the sidewalk, clutching his chest. Would
you perform bypass surgery; administer CPR; or
explain how paying better attention to his stress
level, exercise program, and dietary habits could
have prevented this unfortunate situation?
The most logical choice would be to administer
CPR. The patient needs immediate intervention to help
him survive the attack. The other options are
appropriate for follow-up activities and are almost
certainly necessary for a full recovery, but
obviously, suggesting aerobic exercise to a patient
in the middle of a heart attack would be ridiculous
based on his life-threatening needs.
Similarly, public-sector organizations today are
feeling the pain and stress of shifting to a quality-
and customer-focused culture. Unfortunately, many
groups are experiencing disappointing results because
of a mismatch between their approach to improvement
and their organization’s maturity level. Just
as the level and type of medical treatment must be
geared toward the needs of the patient, the approach
to improvement and change must be tailored to a
group’s specific needs and abilities.
The maturity model recognizes
that organizations are at different levels in the
areas of vision alignment, management involvement,
employee empowerment, customer focus, and process
The three levels of organizational
maturity—firefighting, emerging, and total
commitment—all have unique characteristics and
all require different approaches to change.
Three Levels of Readiness
Like the person who collapsed on the sidewalk, the
firefighting organization is also struggling for
survival. The situation isn’t always as serious
as being on the doorstep of drastic funding cuts or
outright elimination of departments and agencies; but
if fundamental changes are not made, the organization
is headed for rough times.
Groups in the emerging phase of readiness have
progressed from the firefighting mode and are able to
determine a general direction for their improvement
initiatives. They are operating successfully but have
not achieved peak performance.
Finally, an organization at the total commitment
level is ready to make a significant investment to
change its culture from one of a scrambling,
day-to-day view to one of proactivity and vision.
Matching Approach to
Matching your approach to
your organization’s readiness level can have a
profound impact on the success of your improvement
initiative, but what happens when you select an
The results can be as disastrous as when a doctor
recommends the wrong treatment for an illness. The
figure below gives an overview of which approaches
work best for each of the three levels of readiness;
and, more important, it shows what can happen when
the approach and readiness level are mismatched.
For example, firefighting organizations should focus
on basic problem-solving techniques, like analyzing
or correcting defects to gain a basic understanding
of the situation.
Asking a group like this to work on a focused
improvement initiative like root-cause analysis or
business self-assessment will only lead to
disappointment. People will be too busy with their
“real work” to devote the time required
to make improvements.
Additionally, deploying companywide mandated
programs would have the more severe effect of making
employees cynical and resistant to any future
Organizations at the emerging level have a basic
foundation that allows them to function in a
relatively smooth manner.
The best approach for these groups is to select
one area to address for improvement, measure its
success, and use it as a springboard for improvements
in other areas. This also serves as an example to
other parts of the organization by showing them a
successful approach for implementing improvement
Problem-solving tools, which work best for
firefighting organizations, can also be used in the
emerging organization as needed to support the
focused improvement initiatives. These tools,
however, may not allow the organization to advance to
its fullest capabilities.
A broad-based approach, on the other hand, may be
useful to understand how the focused improvement fits
into the larger picture, but it may be too much for
the organization to support as its primary focus.
Groups at the total
commitment level have a very clear sense of vision;
have management that is actively involved in
supporting change; and have strong employee
empowerment, customer focus, and process base.
These organizations are able to initiate
broad-based approaches to change, such as deploying
the Malcolm Baldrige model as a management
Clearly, selecting problem solving as a primary
approach would not fulfill the potential for
improvement in an organization at this level of
readiness. Similarly, an approach of focused
improvement would sell the group’s capabilities
a bit short. Initiating a collection of coordinated,
focused improvement is an excellent way to achieve
the organization’s broader goals and to help
improve overall performance and effectiveness.
A nationally recognized customer service
expert, author, and trainer, RON
ROSENBERG, CSP, recently founded
Drive-You-Nuts.com, a Web site dedicated to helping
people get the service they deserve and to teaching
companies how to provide it. He has been featured in
publications including The New York
Times, Smart Money, and Real Simple
and has appeared as a guest on nationally
syndicated radio shows including “Dateline
Washington” and the “Gary Nolan
Show.” For more information, visit his Web site